Finding Your Pyjama Mojo
Beer is an ever-changing commodity. From the Trappist and Gueze brewers in Belgium to the super inventive and trendy pastry stout producers of the US; beer is evolving at all times. New ingredients, new yeast strains, more information, more science and more experimentation leads to breakout styles that soon sweep across the world, change the way brewers brew and modify what we know as beer.
Being a home brewer in this day and age is a somewhat daunting task. When beer was brewed in the Fertile Crescent to fuel the building of the Great Pyramids, there was little information other than what was passed down from one generation to another. Beer was made to preserve what was farmed, for nutrition and to fuel the workforce. Today we are all victims, drowning in information, gulping for our last breath before we are consumed by mass marketing campaigns, social media influencers and the overwhelming availability of products.
The benefit today is that science has made brewing efficient, less laborious, and even fun!
This post is about cutting through all the fat, trimming away the nonsense and finding your style as a home brewer, whether it is your own recipe or someone else’s you can “own” it!
Most professional brewers are viewed as the ones that “made it”, the ones that have the cool jobs or the real influencers. If you are to ask any professional brewer about their job and how cool it is, most will be very humble about their profession. It is a lot of cleaning most of the time, balancing time and tank capacities, outputs and inputs, home and work life.
Making the move into larger scale brewing often seems like a dream job, but with higher stakes there is less room for error, experimentation or inspiration at times. Again and again, you find brewers slipping in some of their personal touches, inventive ways and their own personal mojo into their job. This is where true pride in the craft lies. Luckily for us, this is much easier to do at home. There is no audience, no Untappd ratings, not any beer snobs to satisfy. You are your own boss, critic and connoisseur.
This is not guideline for everyone, but maybe a general way to help struggling home brewers look for inspiration in their brewing decisions. It may even help you find your niche in home brewing, or at least find the “next beer” you want to brew.
- Reliable Sources
Finding reliable sources of information is one of the trickiest things due to the overload of information on the internet. Even some of the more reliable sources can be a dumping ground for people paying for space on websites or magazines. Many websites, podcasts, blogs, magazines and books are merely “pushers” - trying to pass off information to sell products. Sometimes these are easy to spot, or they can be easily confused for something legitimately informative or inspirational.
Look for information attached to people that have experience in their field, are well known in home brewing groups, or are not really in it for the money. Each home brewer will have a somewhat different method, so sometimes even their information will not fit, but they will likely never say with any confidence that their way is the best way. Most reliable sources understand the several different techniques for brewing and have either tried them, or at least know what things will work.
Stay Away: Don’t entertain most Facebook groups advice, unless you know some of the people you are talking to. There are actually groups out here to make fun of people asking questions about home brewing. The open information on the internet is full of crappy advice. It is entertaining for sure, but if you are entering home brewing for the first time you do not want to be mocked for asking a question.
Counting on history is somewhat of a gamble when looking for inspiration because you need to make sure your source is reliable (See above).
This can be broken into a few different areas.
First, your specific region, your climate, your geography in the area where you live. Maybe you live in an area where beer ingredients are grown. Locally produced and abundant beer ingredients that can be used often end up creating unique brews that are super hard to replicate. Seasonal climates and soil will often influence beer flavours, in what several wine producers come to know as Terroir. This is the taste that comes from unique growing regions and soils. Harnessing this can be of exceptional value and inspiration. Even if you don’t grow specific beer ingredients, you can often find adjuncts or additives that can be used to compliment several styles and take your beer to the next level. Locally found herbs, spices, fruits, vegetables and nearly everything found can be added to certain beer styles within reason.
Second, other world regions. England, Germany, Belgium, the US often have a long standing history of brewing traditions. Find your flavour, your beer, and go with what you like. Master the style of a region. Dial in water profiles, traditionally used hops and special malt or adjunct ingredients. This is often easy to do with the numerous recipes and information available at our fingertips. Brew the beer again and again until it is the way you like it. This is where true mastery comes from, practice!
Going a little deeper into your family history, you will likely find some form of home brewing along the way. This used to be the norm for making beer. Usually made on the stovetop or in the oven, family brewing is an old tradition. Maybe you are lucky enough to find some old recipes, or old family brewing equipment. If you are looking for some GIRL POWER!, this was usually done by the women of the household. If your family immigrated to where you live now, look deep into their roots. Finding a unique regional style may resurrect some old family memories or take you deep into perfecting something that no one else is doing.
Food and beer often intersect perfectly. Food can often be a great source of influence for making beer. Making a perfect stout to compliment a dessert or a bubbly Belgian to cut the saltiness of oysters can be the perfect journey to inspire your brewing. The pursuit of perfect beer and food pairings can overlap with ingredients as well. Adding chillies to spice up a lager or darks stout, coffee or orange peel, all spice, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and whatever concoction that will go well together.
For something more non-traditional feel free to try anything that you are into. Coffee, kids cereal, exotic fruits, lacto-fermented products, or really anything you are into. Don’t be afraid to experiment, but ensure your final product stays drinkable.
The trick with spices and food adjunct additions is to go light to start. If it is a new flavour you are adding into a brew, start with a small amount. The idea is to make the addition noticeable but not dominant in most cases. Several of these flavours are also available in pure or synthetic forms that can be added similar to dry hops. Just pour the addition in and get the flavour. The quality ranges in these products, but still proceed with caution even with the finest products as you do not want your beer to taste synthetic. There are several good commercial examples of beers that add in synthetic flavours that are overpowering. This is sometimes better for mass marketing, but results in a beer that consumers may only have 1 or 2 and move on.
Finally, look to the shelves to find some inspiration. Each brewer has a a different palate and direction for their styles of beer. Trying to replicate someone else’s creation at home is not infringing on any copyrights as long as your beer is consumed at home. Recreating your favourite craft or macro brand is a good way to refine your skills, hone in on recipes, and dial in your equipment. Some of your favourite recipes may be available online from the breweries even. Of course, they make some slight changes to protect their recipes; but, in general the advice given from any trusted source will likely result in a similar product that you can enjoy.
There is a reason that some beers sell like hot cakes and have been around for centuries. There is no shame in paying them respect by trying to make the same thing at home. On the other hand, vanished beer styles or brands have a long term lingering effect on some people, and there is nothing better than remaking a favourite classic that is no longer around.
Finally, if your are new to brewing, finding your mojo or personal inspiration may not be your first priority. Focus on getting your first brews done right and nailing down the process. This is an instant boost to your mojo!
Beer is a long time part of several cultures around the world. Similar to fashion and music; beer is an easily adaptable beverage that is hard to keep up to. The best part of brewing in the comfort of your home is that you can leave the worries of the fast paced world behind. It’s comforting like wearing pyjamas when you get home, because no one is going to see you.
Not that you shouldn’t share your beers with friends when it is ready, but in the comfort of your own home brewery you can really experiment, learn and develop your own style. Wear your pyjamas and brew a lazy stout or pale ale, or get your suit on and brew a zippy trendy pilsner.
Either way, find your mojo, get inspired and keep brewing!
Cheers friends! Happy Brewing!